The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance met with the Public Buildings Commission Jan. 17, to discuss progress on the much delayed construction of the new Westinghouse High School.

The alliance had requested the meeting for several months with the commission, which took place at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park, to get answers to when the project would finally be completed.

“We felt it was definitely time to have a sit down talk with the PBC and find out what happened to the bidding and when it would continue,” said Dwayne Truss, a member of the GPCA. “It took us to have to write two letters to get them here, but we were happy with what came out of the meeting.”

The original budget for the project was slated at $47 million, but, according to the alliance, that total was several million short for many of the bids received by the PBC from contractors to execute the construction plans. This, they said, led to the delay. This time, the PBC chose not to specify the amount of the project, although officials did say they expected to spend more on it.

“Most projects of this magnitude tend to cost more anyway, so increasing the money they are willing to spend on it is a smart move,” said Truss. “Now it’s just a matter of choosing the contractor.”

Which will be made easier, he added, since it has been narrowed down to seven possible candidates. The candidates are Berglund Construction, FH Pashen Construction/SN Nielsen & Assoc., LLC, FHP Tectonics, George Sollitt Construction, George Sollitt/Oakley Construction in a joint venture, IHC Construction, and Walsh Construction. The Westinghouse contractor will be chosen from this group.

The bidding will take place on Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Richard J Daley Center downtown near Randolph and Dearborn.

“One of the reasons for the delay, was that so many construction companies were in the running and they all had their own ideas about how much the project should cost,” said Mike Tomas, New Communities program director for the alliance. “They instead have identified the seven construction companies that, because of resources and pricing, would be most likely to accept the project at its current budget stipulations.

“This allows community businesses to have a leg up as well, because if they know beforehand what contractors are in the running, they can then contact them and offer their plumbing, roofing or masonry expertise to the contractors. It gives them a better chance of working on the project,” Tomas said.

According to the PBC, attracting more community businesses is also one of its intentions, as it agreed to increase its number of minority tradesmen on the project from 24 percent to 30 percent.

“I liked finding out that despite the many delays, there were no major changes in the design of the school,” said Tomas about the proposed two-story college preparatory/vocational magnet high school. “The dimensions of the room sizes are the same, which is good. The window heights are the same, as are the ceilings.” While the update on the school was largely greeted positively by the alliance, there was one bit of bad news.

“The construction won’t begin until April of 2008, and the school will probably not open until 2009,” Tomas said. “I just don’t like the fact that students have to wait that long for the school to open. That is bound to set back some who are looking for it to open sooner.”

The school, located at Franklin and Kedzie, will be approximately 240,000 square feet, serving approximately 1,200 students, the PBC estimates, and will house two schools, one for college prep classes such as English, math and history. The other will be vocational school for fields such as radiology and nursing. Each school will have an enrollment of 600 students.